Twinsburg police seeking certification in state standards

State initiative started after racial incidents in 2014

JEFF SAUNDERS
Reporter
August Nicoluzakis, 4, sits behind the wheel of a Twinsburg police cruiser during a Police Night Out event in 2017.

Twinsburg — The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month led to riots, followed by nationwide protests against racism and calls for police reform. But tightening standards for police in Ohio has been in the works for the past several years.

The Twinsburg Police Department is one of hundreds of law enforcement agencies in Ohio — and one of 21 in Summit County — that are certified in at least the first group of voluntary standards designed to help improve police and community relations.

The city’s police department is now in the process of adopting voluntary state standards on bias-free policing and the investigation of police misconduct.

It has thus far been certified in standards on the use of force, employment and recruiting, community policing, body cameras and dispatch training.

“I think the Achilles heel of law enforcement as a whole is that there is not enough standardization for hiring policies, training requirements and operational procedures,” said Twinsburg Police Chief Chris Noga.

The standards are an initiative of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Policing Advisory Board, established by former Gov. John Kasich in 2015 following fatal incidents involving Black people and police the year before, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Establishment of the Ohio Collaborative followed a 2014 executive order establishing a task force to examine “community-police relations” stating “it has become apparent that too many people in communities of color feel that the protective shield that law and order is intended to provide is not working for them, and this underlying friction can only be resolved by enhancing the confidence felt by the community in their relationship with law enforcement.”

The Ohio Collaborative, a 12-person panel of law enforcement experts and community leaders from around the state, has been establishing “minimum standards” for law enforcement agencies and set up a certification process for state agencies that thus far employ nearly 80% of law enforcement officers in the state, who police jurisdictions that cover three-fourths of the state’s population.

There are now seven standards incorporated in three groups: Group 1 sets standards for use of force and agency employee recruitment and hiring; Group 2 includes standards for community engagement, body worn cameras and telecommunicating — call taking and dispatching; and Group 3 includes standards for bias-free policing and investigating employee misconduct.

Of the 28 Summit County police agencies, seven have been certified in all three groups of standards: Bath, Boston Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Richfield, Stow, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, and the University of Akron Police Department.

County agencies not certified in any of the groups include: Lakemore, Macedonia, Northfield Village, Peninsula, Reminderville and Silver Lake.

The city of Twinsburg is currently certified in groups 1 and 2.

“I will begin working on accreditation for Group 3 policies and the reaccreditation of Group 1 policies this summer,” Noga said, adding the department uses a company called Lexipol to help it create its policies.

“This makes it very easy to ensure our policies are current and updated quickly when case law, state law or best practices change,” he said.

The bias-free policing standard requires collection of data on all self-initiated traffic contacts, along with annual profiling related training that should include field contacts, traffic stops, search issues, asset seizure and forfeiture, interview techniques, cultural diversity, discrimination, and community support. 

The standard also requires an annual administrative review of agency practices, data collected, and citizens’ concerns, which must be available to the public.

The investigation of employee misconduct standard requires that a procedure for accepting, processing and investigating complaints is established, with timelines, protections for legal and contractual rights of employees and steps to inform the public of the process.

Noga said he believes standards should be mandatory.

“Most accreditation programs are voluntary, such as the program offered by the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which is expensive,” he said. “There is no mechanism to force mandatory compliance. Even the Ohio Collaborative is voluntary.

“Mandatory standardized policies would mean that every law enforcement officer would learn and be expected to follow a universal set of practices shared among law enforcement agencies of all sizes, which only strengthens our profession.”

The city of Hudson is working toward certification in both Group 2 and 3 standards, said Hudson Police Chief Perry Tabak.

Tabak said continuing professional training in the Group 1 use of force standard used to be mandatory for police in Ohio.

“A few years ago, [Ohio] stopped the funding for that,” he said. “I think that’s where you saw some departments not keeping up with the training.”

Still, he said the standards are a good step that he believes puts the state ahead of some other states that may not even have gone this far.

“You see a lot of calls for police reform, and I think that having this stuff in place and evaluating best practices and procedures and things like that on a regular basis is important, rather than waiting for an incident to happen and then trying to figure out, you know, what to do,” he said.

Jeff Saunders can be reached at jsaunders@recordpub.com